Grandparents seeking visitation with, or legal custody of, their grandchildren have an uphill battle when they take the kids’ biological parents to court.
One reason is that Maryland law tends to side with the parents even though there is no specific statute defining or protecting parents’ rights. However, under the state code, it notes parents “are the joint natural guardians of their children.” This gives parents the responsibility for their children’s “support, care, nurture, welfare, and education.”
Grandparents seek visitation rights or custody are viewed as “third parties,” which means the burden is on the grandparents to prove their grandchildren’s parents are unfit, there are exceptional circumstances or the grandparents are the children’s de facto parents.
De facto parents, with the birth parents’ consent, act as the children’s parents. This can come about if the children have lived with their grandparents for an extended time and been taken care of by the grandparents.
Meeting the qualifications of a de facto parent elevates a grandparent from third-party status and puts them on equal footing with the bio parents regarding issues of visitation and custody.
A grandparent could invoke exceptional circumstances if they can prove it is detrimental to the children to bar them from remaining in contact with their grandparent. This would likely work best if the children and grandparent had previously lived together or otherwise shared a very close relationship.
Parental unfitness can be determined due to substance abuse, illegal activities, neglect or other types of child abuse that occurred in the past or are ongoing.
If you are a grandparent who wants to petition the court for custody of or visitation with your grandchildren, it’s best to retain a family law attorney with experience dealing with grandparents’ rights.
Source: Carroll County Times, “Legal Matters: Grandparents are ‘third parties’ in the eyes of the law,” Donna Engle, Dec. 23, 2016